Article by: Yaacov Apelbaum
Much has been said and written about Christopher Steele’s authorship of the notorious document that alleges Russia-Trump collusion. According to Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS (who plead the Fifth and only spoke through his lawyers), Steele was hired by them in June 2016 to gather information about “links between Russia and [then-presidential candidate] Donald Trump.” Pursuant to that business arrangement, Steele prepared a series of reports styled as intelligence briefings, some of which were later compiled into a collection of documents and published by a number of media outlets and later become known as the “Trump dossier.”
On the face of the dossier, it appears that Steele gathered his data from multiple sources in Russia, former Soviet union (FSU) countries, and the US. He then edited the raw intelligence—which seems to be a combination of conversations and notes—organized it in a summarized brief format, and published/leaked it in parts or in its entirety on a spiraling schedule.
Image 1: The Dossier events and publication schedule
My initial impression reading the dossier was that the writing was sloppy and that it did not resemble an intelligence report. It exhibited multiple writing styles and writers, both English and non-English speakers, and it was assembled in haste. I also thought that in many ways, it paralleled the plot line of the Dreyfus Affair. As in the case of the “dossier” and the Bordereau from the Dreyfus case, the Trump dossier was presented as undeniable proof of collusion. Yet, it’s uncertain who composed it, how it was collected, or even if the document is genuine.
Just like its nineteen century French predecessor, the Trump dossier too had a powerful social and political impact in the US. Its content has dominated the news and has raised substantial questions about the rule of law, the political impartiality of senior federal career bureaucrats, and the true extent of the separation of powers in government.
Russia vs. Non-Russia issues on MSNBC’s news coverage
Considering all of the dossier’s unusual aspects, I decided to take a little time and do a deeper dive into its structure and content. In this post, I’ll demonstrate how by using readily available OSINT tools and techniques, video analytics, and writing style analysis, we can pinpoint the likely sources, methods, and the individuals involved in the creation and distribution of this document.
I would like to apologize for the lengthy and somewhat overwhelming amount of detail in this write-up. Contrary to common belief, the truth is rarely concise, pure, and never simple. As Proverbs 1:2-7 implies, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding does require an investment of time and effort. in the spirit of full disclosure, I was not paid to produce this research and I am not affiliated with democratic or Republican circles. My objective in writing this posting was to provide the layman reader not otherwise versed in intelligence gathering and analysis techniques with basic facts and insight so that they can form their own educated opinions on the matter.
The Dossier Team
Even after several testimonies and investigative reports, the composition of the dossier team is still shrouded in secrecy. When Glenn Simpson testified on November 8th and 14th in front of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he was vague and evasive about the names of the people that worked on the document and just said that he hired Steele, who then:
“Use[d] his old contacts and farmed out other research to native Russian speakers who made phone calls on his behalf“.
Two of these “native Russian speakers” were subsequently identified as Nellie Ohr and Edward Baumgartner. But even after this revelation, there are still many unanswered questions about this team. For example, what was the organizational structure of their network? How and where was the raw intelligence collected, stored, and transmitted? Or, how was Steele, a private British national living in England able to so quickly and effectively reach top US politicians like McCain and Pelosi, publish through and get full backing from media outlets like Yahoo, NYT and WaPo, and gain access to senior officials at the State Department, the DOJ, and FBI?
Before we jump-in, let’s first review our dramatis personæ.